Dinner Guests

(July 24th, 2008)

The following blog was featured on Znet.

I have a simple experiment that might just prevent the future victimization of millions of people throughout our world.

Dinner guests.

That’s right. Once a week, those with ultimate decision-making power in their fields should invite those most ill-affected by such decisions over for dinner.

Think about it. Who would speak first at a dinner attended by both the head of Shell Oil and the family of Ken Saro-Wiwa, the activist hero hung to death as a result of protesting Shell’s business practices in Nigeria?

What conversations would strike up week after week between the financial directors of Bechtel’s water privatization division and the Cochabamban families who were cut off from this basic necessity?

Or how about the stares endured by international engineering moguls from the families displaced by India’s big dam construction?

There is nothing like an uncomfortable meal. Looking over your plate at someone you believe has done you wrong. Looking over your plate at someone you have done wrong.

While it may be easy to make decisions affecting people you will never meet – people that you don’t even know exist, it is another matter altogether when you have to break bread with those same people once a week.

Imagine the small talk a CEO might improvise to avoid a family’s questions as to why a manufacturing plant that has been the lifeblood of their small town for two generations is suddenly moving to a foreign country for cheaper labor.

How would the steak taste for a pharmaceutical giant who had blocked a cheaper generic form of a life-saving drug from the child across his table, so sick she cannot even eat?

How long would the silence stretch between the makers of smart bombs and the innocent individuals unintentionally made into amputees?

Is this to imply that I believe any of such hosts are evil people? Absolutely not. But what I believe is not the point of the experiment. The point is that they absolutely do have critical impact upon the lives of multitudes of strangers.

Holding an extraordinary share of another’s circumstance should hold an extraordinary responsibility, an extraordinary obligation.

I am proposing a meal.

Is this really too much to ask?

Every president should have to entertain the parents of children lost in war, both military and civilian. Every secretary of defense should have to look across the table at the spouse of a military casualty. Every elected official should have to host the worst off of his or her constituents.

Every mining interest, every insurance titan, every arms manufacturer, every credit card peddler, every banking executive, every powerful individual guilty of victimizing those whose only crime is not being known to them should be sentenced to the intensity of a good old fashioned, sit-down round of bowl passing.

I’m a firm believer in families eating at the dinner table. It forces us to spend time with one another and talk when we normally might not. It helps us to keep up with each other’s lives. It brings us to confront one another when we are at odds.

It’s not hard to believe that the powerful would make different decisions if the worst consequences were to be felt by their own family.

Every now and then, I believe it would be good for certain members of our human family to have dinner with each other.

Then again, this is just an experiment. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it wouldn’t make a difference. Maybe an auto executive could spend the hour looking into the eyes of a burn victim and still go back to running his company based on a calculation of how many people can blow up in their vehicles before it makes financial sense to fix the problem.

If so, I’m sure we can think of other experiments.

I, myself, am an optimist. I believe the dinner table is a strange equalizer. I believe no matter how lonely it is at the top, we can always find some dinner guests to bring certain folks back down to earth. If we could only bend justice enough to force a few people to weekly meals, I really do believe we could change the world for the price of green beans, mashed potatoes, and a pan of biscuits.